I remember feeling the floor seemingly drop out from under my feet when I heard the news about the Tampa Bay Lightning buying out the rest of star center, and face of the franchise, Vincent Lecavalier‘s long-term contract in June during the off season. A contract he had only signed in the first place to be a permanent part of Tampa Bay for what remained of his storied career.
An organization he had already been apart of for the entirety of his career in the NHL up to that point, after the Bolts drafted him No. 1 in the first round in 1998.
It was perfect. Story book. And now…it had come to this. Bought out with seven years still remaining on a 85 million, eleven-year contract extension signed on July 12, 2008.
Now the possible buyout had been rumored about in the press for weeks prior to the official statement, but still…it was shocking to say the least.
And I understand the business side of the thing, and know it’s not personal. But that doesn’t make it any easier to stomach.
I mean, c’mon. It’s Vinny. One of the most important players in Tampa Bay’s 2004 Stanley Cup winning season.
Next to the Martin St. Louis (and now Steven Stamkos), Lecavalier is the Lightning’s greatest star and player the franchise was ever fortunate enough to have in its roster.
But anyways, sorry about that. This article was really supposed to be about Vinny’s return to the Tampa Bay Times Forum today as the Bolts face Lecavalier’s new team, the Philadelphia Flyers at 7:30 PM.
I meant to start with that but I needed to put some words down on my whole reaction to the Vinny buyout, because when it happened, I didn’t write for Bolts by the Bay, and I didn’t have this amazing venue to speak my mind and heart on such Lightning matters. I wasn’t able to extend such intimations to a reading audience who might just care, and might just relate.
So here we move to the guts of the matter.
Tonight is Vinny’s first time playing his old team of fifteen years after the summer buyout; in a completely different jersey. I’ll be there. I specifically made sure to go to this game. I wanted to see this (to me) historical game in Lightning fandom.
And check out what the Bolts organization would do to honor this truly great Lightning player.
Lecavalier will be presented the Community Hero Award at the game and will get a video tribute on the Tampa Bay Times Forum scoreboard, and Lightning owner Jeff Vinik will be personally donating $50,000 to any charity of Vinny’s choosing.
When interviewed by the press yesterday, I was pleased to see how jubilant Vinny was about coming “home” and seeing some of the old teammates and staff from Tampa Bay.
“I’m excited to go back and see everything, see my old teammates, my buddies and play hard against them.” Lecavalier said.
Vinny on the buyout: “(GM) Steve Yzerman told me there might be something going on. They did everything the right way. Everything was classy. They talked to me through the process. It was good.”
And on if he has something to prove to the Lightning: “I swear it’s not to prove anyone wrong. I want to prove this team (the Flyers) right. I want to help this team.
“(The Lightning) made a business decision, and I don’t have anything against the Lightning. They just do everything the right way. The thing for me was to move on and go with it, that’s all.” Vinny added.
And so he has, and so shall we all. I know it’s been more than enough time since the summer buyout to have come to some level of peace with this. And truthfully I have. But the idea of this game, tonight’s game against Philly, just digs it all up again.
But deep down, blue jersey or orange jersey, I can’t wait to see Vinny back on the ice in Tampa Bay, one more time, with the Flyers.
And I can’t wait for the Lightning to take two points from them.